Andy Fleet came to our notice earlier this year when his album “The Sleepless Kind” popped through the letterbox and immediately went on constant play in the CD player. Andy’s a consummate pianist, playing across the musical spectrum from classical to jazz and all points between and many of his songs are inspired by the stories of the musicians who play for us every night in bars, theatres, clubs and auditoriums and the lives that they lead on and off the bandstand. Give the album a listen after you’ve had a look at Andy’s lockdown lifesavers:

 

Coffee

The first thing I think about when I wake. My Italian La Pavoni espresso machine never fails to lift me every time and I get anxious when I’m away and unsure of where morning coffee is coming from. 

 

 

 

MotoGP

I’ve been riding and following motorcycle racing for over twenty years and it’s the best show in the world -- full of speed, danger, bravery and masterful skill. The characters and back stories make it the most fascinating race series in the world and we were treated to a near full programme in 2020. Top job,

 

Nailing a Chopin Nocturne

I love playing classical piano and work on it daily. The challenge and magic of Chopin keeps my musical spirits up when I’m struggling with my own writing. 

 

Playing Poker with my daughter

Probably not what I should be teaching my daughter !!! but she loves it and it’s a great way to spend some quality time together away from music, work and social media. Just a pack of cards. It inspired a new song actually -- Cards on the Table -- look forward to recording that one. 

 

Pilsner Urquell -- Czech Lager

Developed a real taste for this beautiful Czech lager this year, makes regular lager taste very average. I keep things sensible but 2020 has been trying … I heard someone say earlier this year “They had better open the pubs again soon before we turn into a nation of alcoholics!” 

Photo by Jen Squires

We reviewed Stephen Fearing’s thirteenth album, “The Unconquerable Past” earlier this year, during the period when live music was still happening and COVID was a tiny cloud on the horizon. It feels like we were in a different universe. Anyway, we loved the album and we were really pleased when Stephen agreed to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives feature at the end of a difficult year for anyone involved in the world of music. Like many musicians, Stephen has retained his optimism and belief that however bad things get, music can always help you to get through the day.

 

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.” — John Lennon

 

I’ll be honest and say that I am STILL struggling to fully “come to grips” with this year. As ever, there are so many things to be grateful for amidst the tatter of what was “supposed to be”, and I’m happy to report that the glass is definitely half-full and even possibly topping itself back up (Biden/Harris and news of “The Vaccine” seem to have arrived at the party together).

However, my high fives will all go to music, the touchstone that has always been my bedrock and this insane year is no different. 2020 – Music saved my soul.

 

1            Nashville – “ On The Road Again ” -Willie Nelson. The year started out with a bang as I travelled south to Nashville to appear with my hairy brethren – Blackie and The Rodeo Kings – at The Bluebird Cafe and The Grand Ole Opry (at The Ryman ).

Coincidentally, I was working my way through Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary which just made walking out onto that stage even more magical and surreal. This was a hell of a way to start what was shaping up to be my busiest year of music making, with a solo release (The Unconquerable Past) and Blackie’s new Warner Bros. 25th anniversary release ( “King of This Town” ). I was looking to log some serious air miles and play my face off.

2            Europe – “On The Road Again ” -Willie Nelson.

By the middle of February I was in Europe finishing up some solo dates and a series of much-anticipated shows with my Danish pals – The Sentimentals. I met these fantastic humans two years ago through our mutual friend Jonathan Byrd who generously shared their contact with me when I enquired about his “Scandinavian connection”. What started in 2018 with some shows in Denmark grew into this 2020 tour with performances in Denmark, The UK, Holland and Germany. Here we are backstage at Meneer Frits in Eindhoven – The “greenroom” is off the kitchen… One of my projects this winter is to mix and edit the show we filmed and recorded that night. Stay tuned.

3            “No one lives forever Who would want to

But you’re too soon gone

Too soon gone” – Jules Shear and Stan Szelest

My Mother warned me that there would come a day when I would see my heroes begin to “shuffle off this mortal coil”. The 2020 list of those who have left us is  staggering – Vera Lynn, David Olney (who doesn’t want to go out like David Olney?), Lyle Mays, Little Richard, Helen Reddy, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Pointer, Toots Hibbert, Jerry Jeff Walker, McCoy Tyner, Eddie Van Halen, Justin Townes Earl, John Prine… The loss is poignant but the point is just how much each of these great artists left behind for us to cherish.

Early in March when things were just starting fall apart, I went for a drive with my daughter (16) and had the pleasure of introducing her to the music of Bill Withers – she is surrounded by music and had heard some of his classic tunes but hadn’t fully joined the dots so to speak. Watching her really feel the pocket on tunes like “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)” or “Keep On Using Me” was a great feeling. Bill Withers’ has always been like comfort food to me and as a white-on-white kid living in Ireland, his music taught me a great deal about honesty, compassion and things like how Black Lives Matter. Such a generous spirit – Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…

4            – “My hands are turning numb But I still gotta strum

My Velvet guitar” – Alejandro Escovedo

2019 was the year that legendary Canadian luthier Linda Manzer presented me with my new Manzer “Cowpoke”, the sister to the guitar I have been playing (almost daily) for the past 30 years. It’s a long story, but way back in 2006, a man named Gerry Hayes (Gerry and I had become pals when he came to gigs in the Ottawa Valley region) passed away suddenly and left me his beloved ’79 Manzer. If you want to know the whole story, watch my conversation with Linda entitled “30 Year Cowpoke” on YouTube, but to cut to the chase, that gift from Gerry started the ball rolling on a gorgeous new instrument which I received late last year. A new hand-built guitar requires significant break-in time and the silver lining for me in my “lockdown” has been to play the Cowpoke daily and hear how slowly but surely, the new sister surpasses the old. #bittersweet

5            “I’m stuck in Folsom Prison

And time keeps draggin’ on” – Johnny Cash

OK, I know I’m about as lucky as one can get in these pandemic- lockdown times. I live in “The Garden City,” on an island in The Pacific, in a country where our Govt. has seen fit to provide supplementary income for almost all of us… so I’ve really got nothing to complain about and I do my best not to. Instead, I dug into live-streaming early on but am now devoting my time to sharpening my skills, writing, playing, taking online courses for recording + video-editing software and trying to knock things off the endless list of fix-or-build DIY.

Around our old queen of a house (oh and I really got into the sourdough bread thing). I know how lucky I am and though I struggle with bouts of depression, it’s mostly a passing thing. However, so many in my industry are in dire straits, struggling to keep their heads above water. I am most grateful for my audience and feel privileged to be a part of this great music biz family… mostly I just want to help any way I can. So earlier this year, I created a video with some pals to try and funnel some much needed $$ to an organization dedicated to helping Canadians in the biz. I urge you to go find a similar group in your neck of the woods and see what you can do to help.

For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need Somebody to lean on.

Our first High Five of 2020 comes from Neil Sheasby songwriter and bass player with Stone Foundation. It’s become a bit of a ritual now and this is Neil’s seventh consecutive contribution to this end of year celebration – and it’s always the first one to hit the inbox. Lockdown and Lockdown Lite have caused major problems for Stone Foundation; they’re a working live band and virtually everything apart from a weekend of socially-distanced gigs in the Midlands has been cancelled/postponed. The band has pushed on with the release of its 2020 Top 40 album “Is Love Enough?” and they’re now working on the next one, proving that this year doesn’t have to be defined by the negatives. Anyway, over to Neil:

2020 – A new decade, boundless opportunity, a fresh optimism prevailed. Even its digits seemed to herald in some futuristic promise of a new dawn. Wipe the slate clean of social media tribalism & recent divides over the political warfare of nationalism, Brexit and the lack of a clear, forward, progressive vision. 

2020 – The turning of a new page. Positive thinking. A restoration of respect. And then…

Do I need to go on? Rip it up & start again. It’s good to try and dig out a few simple pleasures here once again for the annual High Fives feature…

1) I’ll begin in the obvious place. Music. This year’s soundtrack. Thankfully music always has the ability to inspire and lift you; in the most testing of times, especially so. The real surprise package of the year came courtesy of the most unlikely of sources, an album called “Pleasure, Joy and Happiness” by Eddie Chacon.

Previously a name unknown to me (at least that’s what I presumed), I’d chanced upon this record whilst navigating my way around Spotify and it just immediately drew me in. It’s sparse, direct and soulful. Of course I naturally assumed it was a new artist, that’s the problem with platforms such as Spotify, you don’t get that much info about a release but I’ve never been shy of doing a bit of homework and it came as a great revelation that Eddie Chacon turned out to be Eddie as in one half of naff 90’s chart toppers Charles & Eddie who had a global smash with “Would I Lie to You” in 1992.

Eddie had abandoned the music industry in the intervening years and this was his humble return after 30 plus years away. I think his story made me love the album even more…

2) Due to the circumstances I’ve had even more time to read and have really enjoyed books such as “Yeah Yeah Yeah” – Bob Stanley’s epic journey through the story of modern pop music, I thought Pete Paphides’ book was a glorious reflection, Chris Frantz’s “Remain in Light” I enjoyed even if it veered off the beaten track factually somewhat, and more recently I tackled John Cooper Clarke’s biography which possibly gets my vote for book of the year (musically related at least) 

 

 

3) TV highlight – “The Queen’s Gambit”

What a refreshing series! Beautifully cast and filmed, stylish down to a tee. Great story, great script. Wonderful acting and even managed to make Chess seem hip. 

Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it.

 

 

4) An indulgence on my part I know but this was a major highlight in an otherwise uneventful 2020…the rise and return to top flight football of my beloved Leeds United. Obviously it had been a long time coming (16 years to be precise) and it took an Argentinian bespectacled genius who perches on a bucket to enable a path back to glory. 

It’s been a revelation watching football again under Bielsa and reignited my love for the game. I’m so happy for my kids too, they never wavered in their support for Leeds but I’m sure there were times when they must have thought “why do we support this lot Dad?” 

Hopefully Leeds Utd can remain in the top flight of English football now and continue the ascent. Promotion to the Prem was a big moment in our house. I really can’t wait for the Trans-Pennine skirmishes with Man Utd again. 

 

5) Recording. Although our touring schedule has been decimated it has meant more time and opportunity to create & write. Our last album “Is Love Enough?” was actually completed quite some time ago so since then we’ve been chipping away at writing the next one. Lockdown just probably accelerated the process so we have been able to begin the recording of what may well become another Stone Foundation record, it’s been good to fill the void with creativity and keep the wheels in motion in that respect.

Obviously we all sincerely hope that there’s a way back to gigging as we have always known it without compromise or restrictions, it’s important we don’t get sold down the river under the guise of a “new normal”, we are all social animals and we need that communal connection. 

It’s what SF events thrive upon. 

My son Lowell (who’s 17 now) is studying music production at college and he’s been working on his own music through lockdown so I’ve been helping out and collaborating on that too which for me has been like starting out again as a teenager, learning new & different ways to create and record, all done in his bedroom too. The spirit prevails and the baton gets passed on…I like that. 

It’s a logical progression I suppose. I’ve heard a few stripped-back lockdown singer-songwriter albums recently, usually the one voice/one instrument variety and they’ve all been very good. Iago Banet takes it one step further; just guitar, no vocal. Iago’s been playing live around the UK and particularly the south east for a few years now, solo and as guitar player with ColorColour (formerly Deep Blue Sea). With the band, he’s the Les Paul-toting, all the way to 11, rock guitar player and he’s a great player. The solo material’s also very good, but very different from the band dynamic.

For a start it’s all instrumental and it’s mainly acoustic; there are hints of influences from a huge variety of musical styles but it’s all built around Iago’s Galician finger-style playing, a combination of finger-picking, flamenco and soundboard tapping and slapping. And that’s the groundwork right there for Iago’s second album, “Iago Banet”. The album has nine tracks, eight originals and one very interesting (and brave) cover and it demonstrates Iago’s ability to evoke a scene or a feeling with his writing and playing. Here’s a quick run through a few of the album’s highlights.

Sitting right in the middle of the album is “Octopus One”, probably the least typical track. It has a much more jazz/blues feel than the rest of the album and it’s a load of fun – it’s the sound of a guitar player cutting loose and having a good time. Where Iago excels is in capturing and evoking a mood or a scene, whether it’s the slow, moody, delicate finger-picking and soundboard slapping of “Morning at Greenwich Park”, the frantic flurries of notes evoking the bustle and madness of “Rush Hour” in London or the Chet Atkins styling and jazz/country fusion of “There’s a Mouse in My Kitchen” capturing the movement of a mouse skittering across a kitchen floor. Which brings us to the cover version of “Moondance” – yes, that “Moondance”.

This cover demonstrates Iago’s range of techniques with percussive picking pulling out the bass, the melody and rhythmic chords and progressing to Galician finger-style, string slapping and harmonics. Like the Van Morrison original, it swings and it’s another bit of fun to end the album.

So there you go; nine tracks of guitar artistry. The guitar techniques alone make this a stunning guitar player’s album, but it’s the mastery of melody and rhythms and the ability to paint a picture of a scene that make this an album for everyone. It’s a perfect stocking-filler for the music lover in your life and you can get a CD copy here.

“Iago Banet” is out now on all platforms. And while we’re on the subject, Iago’s first album “A Sunset Wine” is also available on his website and I thoroughly recommend that as well.

When things get back to something resembling normal, you really should make the effort to go and see Iago live; you won’t regret it.

We seem to have an outbreak of singles this year; mostly it’s albums coming through the letterbox or into the inbox, but 2020 has seen a few singles, notably three from Danny Schmidt over the summer and one from Tim Grimm in October. In turbulent times, artists will respond with creativity and these have been turbulent times on both sides of the Atlantic. There’s been plenty to write about from both a social and personal point of view and it’s a challenge that’s been taken up by Danny and Tim, and now Ed Dupas.

Just so you know, I’m a big fan of Ed Dupas; he’s a superb songwriter with a rough-hewn, lived-in voice and a good acoustic and electric player. We’ve reviewed three of Ed’s albums here over the last few years and generally the songs lean towards melancholy and are very personal, with a few notable exceptions (the stunning “Flag”, “Too Big to Fail” and “State of the Nation”); “This Old Heart” is very different. It’s a mid-tempo song with an uplifting cajun feel (with a synthesised accordion sound, apparently) and it’s a song of immense hope.

The song was started at around the beginning of the COVID outbreak and then set aside until it began to reassert its presence several weeks later as a song of renewal and redemption. The pandemic is far from over, but the presidential election might offer some hope of healing. Who knows? It’s certainly an opportunity.

“This Old Heart” opens and closes with symbolic sounds – it begins with highway noise and an engine igniting to represent the start of the journey, builds up from an acoustic intro to a full band sound, and closes with a heartbeat. What happens in between is the shift from a time of no hope (‘It’s been a long night for a long, long time’) to a future where we might just be able to help each other along. I’ll raise a glass to that.

Check out Ed’s website as well. In addition to the regular music site items, there’s also a blog featuring Ed’s thoughts on many other subjects, which is thoughtful and fascinating.

“This Old Heart” is released in the UK on Friday November 20th.

One voice, one guitar; it can be that simple, but only if the songwriting, the playing and the voice are good enough. You’re in luck here because “Lamentations” is a set of twelve superb songs by an internationally-renowned writer, who plays acoustic guitar with flair, superb technique and finesse and has a rich and mellow voice that works perfectly for the folk troubadour style of this album. Rupert Wates takes the simplicity a stage further here – the twelve songs on “Lamentations” were recorded in one evening with no overdubs, creating the warmth of a live gig recorded faithfully at studio quality. It’s a challenge to create variety across twelve songs without any band arrangements, harmonies or studio trickery but Rupert Wates aces it with “Lamentations”.

“Lamentations” isn’t a concept album as such, but there are themes that run through the whole piece. The opening song, “The Carnival Waltz”, weaves in the first theme of the circle of life in the form of the carnival carousel endlessly repeating the same cycle with different riders. It’s life; some of us are on the way in and some are on the way out, some of us are going up and some are going down. The guitar backing is finger-picked in 3/4 time, which captures the motion of the carousel perfectly and it demonstrates the way Rupert creates intricate rhythms with his picking styles throughout the album. The circle of life theme is reinforced with songs representing the various phases of life, including birth, which feeds into the theme of songs for Rupert’s new son, Gabriel, passing on the lessons of experience.

Two end-of -life songs towards the end of the of the album demonstrate the versatility of Rupert’s playing. Most of the album is finger-picked, but the lament “Now The Harvest” is strummed, or hit, to imitate the rhythm of a funeral march; it’s a dirge in the true meaning of the word. “Farewell and Adieu” is a fairly simple strummed rhythm pattern backing a poignant farewell to old friends that will never be seen again. “Waiting for a Friend of Mine” backs up the vocal with picked arpeggios in 6/8 time that give a nod in the direction of “House of the Rising Sun” while the intricately-picked “Lamentations” might yet be an epitaph for Donald Trump; who knows?

The two songs written for his new son, “From Where You Are” and “And You Shall Have the World”, both feature master-class finger-picking. The first imagines the jumble of impressions meeting the newborn and a promise to help and support, while the second is an exhortation to avoid materialism and focus on the things that make you happy. I could go on, but I’d really like you to check this out for yourself.

Taking the most basic elements in the performer’s toolkit, one voice and one instrument, Rupert Wates has created an album that fizzes with acoustic guitar mastery and beautifully-crafted songs. Check out some of the individual links here or even the entire album. It’s pure class.

“Lamentations” is released in the UK on Friday December 4th 2020 on Bite Music (BR12115).

Here’s another remote working pandemic project for you. This isn’t a high profile, multi-screen Zoom video collaboration; Los Brujos a much more intimate and personal thing involving (mainly) Chuck Melchin of Bean Pickers Union and Michael Spaly of Green Monroe. The two obviously have a chemistry and have collaborated on projects over the last decade. The difference with this one is that everything has been done in their respective home studios in Michigan and New Hampshire and stitched together by producer Dave Westner in Massachusetts.

The “Alchemy” EP is five songs featuring mainly string band arrangements and some gorgeous four-part harmonies, played with great subtlety and style. What it definitely isn’t is a happy, cheerful listening experience, but I’m partial to a bit of melancholy in my music and it’s appropriate for the times we find ourselves in at the moment.

The atmospheric opener “Reckoning” features some nice harmonies to contrast with the brooding, haunted feel of the tale of a place filled with ghosts, while the gentle country feel of “Bronco” (the car, not the horse) typifies the EP with its story of a relationship break-up finalised by the ex-partner packing her belongings into a Bronco.

“Everything I Can” feels like a Leadon-era Eagles song with its gentle pace and banjo and fiddle fills, telling the story of a break-up caused by a desire to break out of stifling surroundings; it’s an apology delivered while looking in the rear-view mirror. “High Times” is the only question mark for me; it continues the previous track’s theme of the small-town outsider and the early part of the song features some tight four-part harmonies which, towards the end, become a bit too processed and psychedelic for my taste.

And the final song, “Bitter Blue”, is back to slow, laid-back country rock telling the story of the man compelled to keep making the same relationship mistakes. There you go; as Jim Steinman might have said, four out of five ain’t bad.

Five beautifully-crafted songs with lovely harmonies and some delightfully understated playing; I’ll take that any time.

“Alchemy” is released in the UK on Friday November 6th on Inseam Records.

I’m fascinated by the way current affairs are reflected in the arts generally and music in particular. The last few years have seen the resurgence of the protest singer and the protest song and, to use pandemic terminology, in 2020 the resurgence has been exponential as the time approaches when America has to make another choice of President and the majority of creatives are making it clear where their support lies. The trajectory of Tim Grimm’s trilogy of Trump singles (“Woody’s  Landlord”, “Gonna be Great” and “Gone”) reflects the response of many of the many American artists I’ve seen or heard over the last four years – from amusement at Trump’s candidature, through disbelief at the election result to horror and despair at results of four divisive and confrontational years.

“Gone” is where the rope runs out, in the middle of a botched response to a pandemic and the most unprincipled and vicious American presidential election campaign in living memory. This could have been a very angry song, but Tim takes a different path. “Gone” emphasises the despair felt by some Americans at the state of their country. It would have been very easy to push the highly emotive buttons, but Tim doesn’t do that, musically or lyrically. “Gone” is a sparse, slow, unshowy country-rock arrangement with lyrics that are allusive; no names are mentioned although we know it’s about Trump and we know that ‘And the man who brought us Paradise has laid down his guitar’ is about the loss of John Prine.

Subtlety is crucial here, probably as a deliberate contrast with the methods of POTUS. We don’t need to have everything hammered home in detail; we should be able to connect the dots and see the patterns ourselves. It’s an important message in an era where aggressive confrontation seems to be the accepted norm and it’s a welcome respite.

“Gone” is out now on Cavalier Recordings (CR255931).

And here’s the video:

2020’s been a funny old year for album releases. It’s difficult for artists to decide what to do with their new material; postpone and wait for the opportunity to tour in support of the album or take advantage of period when there are fewer albums to compete with. Or maybe after the album’s complete, there’s an urge to just get it out there. “Falling Away from Me” was released across the pond in February 2020 and presumably the intention was to release it here to coincide with a summer tour. And along came COVID. Whatever the reasoning, after a lengthy musical apprenticeship covering many different countries, Sandra Bouza has decided to release her first album, “Falling Away from Me” in October 2020.

It’s an album that proudly displays its creator’s influences throughout. There are elements of pop, jazz, blues and rock, but the foundation of the work is its tight funk rhythms created by the understated combination of guitar, bass and drums with occasional seasoning of keyboards, a sample or a piece of electronica. Without ever sounding derivative, the album hints instrumentally and vocally at a number of artists; more on that later. The individual stamp that defines the album, is the highly personal and confessional lyrics of the eight songs, dealing with bad choices in lifestyle and relationships. It’s an album of funky torch songs.

The mid-tempo jazz-blues of “Not Like Me” is a nod in the direction of Robert Cray’s “Right Next Door”, which features not only a powerful lead vocal, but some lovely layered and ethereal backing vocals as well, while “Stone Junction” is a bit more robust with a punchy bassline and some clipped Steve Cropper-like guitar backing up a tale of misplaced nostalgia for a corrosive past. “Human Connection” has some electronic percussion and a pumping bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pet Shop Boys song and the backing vocals towards the close are reminiscent of Clare Torry on “Great Gig in the Sky”.

The songs demonstrate Sandra’s vocal versatility across a range of dynamics; at times she has a hint of Chrissie Hynde, “Losing You” has the delicacy of Judie Tzuke and the highly personal closer “Wrong Songs” is a nod towards Sade; there’s even a touch of Ella’s scat singing towards the end.

The album is a strong collection of songs pulled together with an autobiographical thread that gives Sandra Bouza an opportunity to demonstrate her vocal and songwriting abilities and it certainly achieves that goal. When things get back to whatever the new normal is, I’ll be keen to see Sandra Bouza playing live in the UK.

“Falling Away from Me” is released in the UK on Friday October 30th on Sabucedo Records (SB003).

 

The last album from Scott Cook to hit my inbox was 2016’s “Go Long”, which shone a beam on the more light-hearted side of Scott’s songwriting. He described it as ‘a bunch of silly songs’, which didn’t entirely do it justice, because it had its serious moments and it was actually a great bunch of songs, whatever the flavour. “Tangle of Souls” is a very different proposition; it was written following a brush with the reaper and reflects the re-evaluation following that experience as well as other, happier, life events. Also, Scott Cook’s a philosopher and an idealist; it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a sprinkling of social comment on the album as well. There are a lot of targets out there in 2020 and Scott firmly sets his sights on quite a few of them.

Let’s just take a step away from this particular album for the moment to look at albums in general. There’s a school of thought that the album is dead (particularly in CD form) and that a series of singles is the best way to capitalise on your work. Which might work if you rely on streaming or downloads for income; for artists who tour a lot in smaller venues an album or EP to sell at the merch desk is a great way to generate income without the hassle of distribution. What Scott has done with this album (and, to a lesser extent 2017’s “Further Down the Line”) is to go back to an earlier time when the music was only part of the album-buying experience. If you’re of a certain vintage, you’ll remember buying the album and checking out the artwork, credits, sleeve notes and lyric sheets, probably on the bus home. It built up the anticipation before you got the chance to play the album. What Scott’s done with “Tangle of Souls” takes this a few stages further. The album includes a two hundred and forty-page booklet which includes credits, lyrics, chords for the songs, the inspiration behind, and explanation of the songs and some of Scott’s biographical, historical and philosophical writings. It’s even printed on specialist paper with hand-drawn artwork. That’s got to be better than a thumbnail of the artist as you listen to a stream or a download (and yes, I did read all of it, it would have been rude not to).

So to the songs. There are twelve of them and each one of them is memorable, and several of them, for me, are classics. “Just Enough Empties” contrasts a gentler, not-too-distant past, with a lonely and alienated present through one person’s journey down a road of innocence, awakening, degradation and redemption linked by the practical idea of glass bottle recycling; it’s a beautifully-crafted song. “Say Can You See”, with the obvious reference to the “Star-Spangled Banner” in the title, is built around a string band arrangement and is Scott’s most overtly political song so far. It’s political, but in a non-partisan way; the message is that virtually everyone on the Hill (Republican or Democrat) is the enemy of the working people and that draining the swamp should actually flush away all of them (‘It ain’t about right and left, it’s about right and wrong’). Those two songs alone would make this a five-star album for me, but there’s even more.

“Passin’ Through” was written by Dick Blakeslee in the forties and it’s one of those songs that lends itself to verses being changed or added. The narrative structure could have inspired the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”; Jagger says it was something from Rabelais, but he would say that, wouldn’t he? Scott adds his own verse to the song with a tribute to Victor Jara, the Chilean activist beaten and executed by Pinochet’s thugs in the Santiago Estadio Nacional in 1973. This song attracted my attention even more because, coincidentally, the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield has recently released an entire album dedicated to Victor Jara (“Even in Exile”). It’s worth checking that out as well.

The last of my personal picks is “What to Keep”, a slow piece that interweaves the personal and political in an exploration of the physical and mental baggage that we carry with us as individuals or as nations. The message is that there are always things that weigh us down that we should cut loose to lighten our load, whether it’s personal memorabilia or inappropriate public commemorations of bygone eras; the less you carry, the easier it is to move forward. The remaining seven songs and one instrumental are all superbly crafted and delivered, and packed with interesting and thought-provoking ideas, but I’d like you to listen to some of the album without the dubious benefit of my opinion.

“Tangle of Souls” is an important work from the wider Americana scene this year. It’s a deeply-considered view of individuals and society twenty years into the twenty-first century; the narratives aren’t necessarily cheerful, but the overall message is positive, in line with Scott’s personal outlook after some challenging times (which you can read about in the book).

“Tangle of Souls” is released in the UK on Friday October 9th.